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date: 07 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the role of school playground games in children’s development. Games and play take place in a range of settings, both in and outside of the home, in gardens, parks, on the streets, designated playgrounds, or other locations. They also take place and are often studied on the school playground and this will be the main context in which the role of games and other playground activities will be discussed here. The school playground is a useful research site because it is one of the few locations where children interact in a relatively safe environment, free of adult control, and when their play, games, and social relations are more their own. There is an appreciation by many researchers that much can be learned about children from studying their behavior and experiences whilst engaged in play and games (see Blatchford & Sharp, 1994; Pellegrini, 2005; Pellegrini & Blatchford, 2000; Smith, 1994; Sutton-Smith, 1982). Although playground activities express something about the individual child, individuals on the playground are situated and live their lives in complex social structures. Social structures involve and are expressed through, for example, play, games, even hanging around, and the study of playground activity can help with the understanding of peer relations in terms of friendship, peer groups, and social status. A key message in this chapter therefore is that if we want to find out about children’s social and psychological development, including their relationships with peers and the acquisition of social and cognitive skills, then we need to study how these arise out of the everyday reality of children’s playful activities and interactions with others in everyday contexts.

The chapter draws mainly on psychological research on games and social activities that children participate in during middle childhood and to some extent adolescence. There are five main sections which cover the following issues: the current status and context of play outside and inside school; definitions of games and perspectives on their role in development; how games and social activities change with development during and beyond middle childhood, how this varies by sex, and how games are learned from other children; the role playground games have in supporting peer relationships and the development of social-cognitive skills; the role of games in relation to learning and engagement in the classroom, school belonging, and adjustment.

For illustration, we draw on several of our own research projects, in particular the Nuffield Foundation-funded national surveys of recess (or breaktime as it is called in the UK) in schools (conducted in 1995 and 2006) and pupil views on recess and social life outside of school (Blatchford & Baines, 2006; Blatchford & Sumpner, 1996), and a Spencer Foundation-funded project on playground activities and peer relations in UK and US schools (Baines & Blatchford, 2009; Blatchford, Baines & Pellegrini, 2003; Pellegrini, Kato, Blatchford & Baines, 2002; Pellegrini, Blatchford, Kato & Baines, 2004). Reported data will come in the main from the UK part of this project, including unreported data from a three-year follow up, unless otherwise stated. We will refer to these as the ‘Nuffield’ and ‘Spencer’ projects, respectively.

Keywords: Keywords, Games, games-with-rules, recess, breaktime, peer relations, friendships, peer groups, sex differences, school adjustment

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